It was an irony of sorts, that a college meant to render a more nationalist form of education to fight against British rule, was named after a Scottish Governor of Bombay. Fergusson College was founded in Pune, 1885, by nationalist leaders Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar along with social reformer Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. It began originally as the New English School, and later Tilak, Chiplunkar founded the Deccan Education Society in 1884. Shirole, the Patil of Bhamburde village on West bank of Mutha River , now called as Shivaji Nagar, donated 37 acres of land, on a 99 year lease, for just one rupee. Inaugurated by William Wordsworth, the grandson of the more illustrious poet of the same name, and the principal of Elphinstone College, it would become a crucible of the nationalist awakening in Maharashtra.
Pune, the city sheltered by the towering Sahayadri ranges, where Shivaji Maharaj grew up. The capital of the Peshwas, who built the numerous Wadas, that gave the city it’s distinct character. The cultural capital of Maharashtra, and the Oxford of India, to which aspiring scholars, writers, thinkers, academicians flocked. It was the city which proved to be the epicenter of the nationalist, social reform movements that shaped Maharashtra in the early 20th century. It was the city that provided the spark to the revolutionary movement, when the Chapekar brothers shot dead W.C.Rand. The city where reformers like Karve, Phule, Ranade, fought for equal rights to women, abolition of untouchability. And on the other hand, Tilak, Gokhale led the agitation against the British rule here.
It was into such an atmosphere, that Savarkar stepped into in 1902, at Fergusson College. Blessed with a clarity of thought and an ability to articulate, he soon impressed the students, and began to form his own group. They published a weekly called Aryan where Savarkar often wrote articles on nationalism, history, literature. One such brilliant article was Saptapadi, where he dwelt with the seven stages of evolution a nation had to undergo. He also studied Kalidasa and Bhavabuti, and was influenced by Milton and Shakespeare among the English writers. The revolutions in Italy, America influenced him a lot, and he would often give talks on their history.
His speeches on India’s glorious history, and her loss of freedom, enthralled other students, and infused a sense of nationalism in them. In response to Tilak’s call for Swadeshi, he used only those goods made in India. While Savarkar, looked up to Tilak, as a mentor, and guide, the latter saw the fire and spirit in the young boy. It was around this time too that the differences between the Moderates and Extremists in Congress was coming to a head. Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal in 1905, and there was a massive protest against it. While the Muslims welcomed the decision, the Hindus of Bengal rose in unison against. The protests spread all over the nation, and Tilak was at the forefront in bringing it on center stage. Savarkar by now was fully in the struggle, and responding to Tilak’s call, he appealed for the boycott of foreign goods and clothes. He also led the first major bonfire of foreign goods and clothes in Pune. Soon Savarkar, became a name to be reckoned with in Pune’s social and political circles with his activism.
Savarkar’s action however did not go down well with the Moderates, who criticized him in the Indu Prakash, one of their papers. He was expelled from Fergusson by the Principal and fined ten rupees for his act. Savarkar became the first Indian student to be rusticated in this manner, as also the first Indian leader to make a bonfire of foreign cloth. However Gandhi as well as Gokhale, criticized the act, the schism between the Moderates and Extremists was deepening even more. Ironically Gandhi himself would lead the bonfire of foreign made goods, later during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1921. These activities did not affect Savarkar’s studies, he passed the BA exam with distinction, and his fame as a writer was spreading wide now.
His ballads on Tanaji and Baji Prabhu, proscribed by the British, were an inspiration to the youth. Those ballads became popular folk songs in Maharashtra, and soon became an inspiration to the ordinary people, to revolt. One of the essays was on why we should celebrate the anniversaries of great leaders, where Savarkar stated it was our way of paying gratitude to those great men. He stated, that these anniversaries were a mark of remembrance, and were sanctified by our ancient tradition of remembering the ancestors.
Savarkar openly wore his Hindu identity on his sleeve, one of his essays concluded with very prophetic words-“Hindus are responsible for the poverty and disorganization of Hindustan. But if they ever desire to attain prosperity, they must remain Hindus”. This assertion was bold, audacious, and a departure of sorts from the current struggle, that stressed on Hindu-Muslim unity. Around 1904, the Mitra Mela founded by him, changed it’s name to Abhinav Bharat. It was now a society of around 100 select members, and inspired by Young Italy of Mazinni, a leader who was an inspiration to Savarkar. After his graduation in Pune, Savarkar went to Mumbai for studying law, where he continued his political activites unabated. He began to contribute to a local weekly named Vihari, which soon became an unofficial mouthpiece for Abhinava Bharat. By now he was the leader of the revolutionary movement in Maharashtra, and looked up to by other freedom fighters.